The deficiencies of the back four – or five if you count the recent goalkeeping troubles – have been the recurring theme for Liverpool over the last 10 years. Frustratingly for Houllier, he seemed to have remedied the club’s Achilles’ heel, with Sami Hyypia and Stephane Henchoz replacing a string of disappointing centre-backs to become the most secure partnership since the heady Alan Hansen-Mark Lawrenson days. Flanked by Jamie Carragher on the left and Markus Babbel on the right, they formed last season’s third most solid rearguard of the Premiership.So where has it all gone wrong? Or, as Houllier maintains, has it not actually gone wrong at all? “We are not defending well at the moment,” he conceded after last week’s 1-1 draw against Boavista in Champions’ League Group B, which marked Liverpool’s return to the top European competition, “but you cannot put that down to the defence alone You defend as a team, as a unit, and we are not doing that But I am confident these players will turn the corner I do trust them. Our defensive play needs a couple more games to get to the level of last season but it will come, and there’s no need to be unduly concerned.”Perhaps Houllier is right not to panic. By mid-November last year, Liverpool had already let in 17 goals and there were fears they might finish the campaign with a figure of 50-plus in the “goals against” column (in the event, they conceded only 22 more throughout the remainder of the campaign).Houllier remains unfailingly loyal to his players and says the squad will be given time to show that they are capable of ironing out the errors which have cost them points in recent matches “These players can correct the mistakes,” he said “It is definitely not a question of bringing in new blood. It’s a team thing.”Much of the early problems last season stemmed from Houllier’s decision to tinker with his full-backs History, it would seem, is repeating itself.
Babbel is out for a month with a bizarre virus which affects his immune system, so Carragher has been switched over to the right, leaving the left side to be filled. Houllier’s only summer signing, John Arne Riise from Monaco, was given a couple of chances to make the position his, but the Norwegian is more suited to a left-midfielder’s role.His shortcomings have given the French youngster Gr?ry Vignal the chance to impress. He came on as a late substitute against Villa and did enough to warrant a starting berth in the disappointing midweek draw with Boavista and the Merseyside derby. The 20-year-old played well and offered Liverpool some much- needed balance at the back.
“Being a natural left-footer helps,” he said, “because it means I am not necessarily coming back inside.”Like his fellow-countryman Micka?Silvestre of Manchester United, he may not be the most natural of defenders, but he is quick and gives attacking options. Perhaps most importantly, Vignal provides width to a team which have seen the 36-year-old Gary McAllister playing as a left-midfielder in a number of recent games “I am enjoying my opportunity,” Vignal said. “Playing for the first team has been my ambition ever since I came here [from Montpellier last summer] and I hope to have another chance in the Champions’ League against Dortmund next week.”Houllier has praised the youngster, while offering a note of caution. “Gregory has a big future,” he said, “and he has shown that he is not afraid to play no matter what the occasion But he must not be too hasty in his ambitions. He still has a lot to prove.” So, too, have this season’s Liverpool.. Trust the neighbours to do you a favour. Everton can still enjoy the feeling of superiority on Merseyside, according to the Premiership table at least, but the balance of power remains on the red side of the city after Liverpool recorded their third consecutive victory over Everton yesterday at Goodison Park
Trust the neighbours to do you a favour.